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My parents only had one child, but I was very strong willed and not easy to handle. I remember being taken out of church several times as a kid. My parents did a good thing with me, though. Rather than just train me to sit quietly so as not to bother those around me, they taught me to take notes. Actually, they bribed me, but we don't need to go into that. I don't remember if I went to church with my parents when I was very young or if I went to children's church, but by the time I was school age, they were teaching me to listen to the sermon and take notes. They paid me per word so I learned to listen very carefully. In fact, I found by the time I went to college that I could record in my own shorthand every word my profs would say during a lecture (a useful skill to have). But my parents were not thinking of that, but of trying to help me to learn attentiveness in church so that God's Word could do its work in me. I'm grateful for the wonderful example of my parents, but I've had to learn this all over for myself with my kids!
In my early years of being a mother I desired distraction-free worship. Then when the kids started coming to church with me (I say me because my husband is the pastor and is up front preaching) I would allow them to have things to occupy them like markers and paper. My main goal was to keep them quiet so that the rest of us in church could hear their daddy. Gradually I began to realize this would not do anything for their hearts. So we (my mom and I) started trying to teach my older kids to take notes. Now my 10 and 8 year olds are pretty good at giving me a summary of the sermon afterwards. My 6 year old is in training. My mom writes down simple sentences or main points from the sermon and she copies them. My 3 yr old just sits and listens because he can't write yet.
Even with these strides, I fear we often miss the main point. I was very adept at taking notes, but that doesn't mean the message I heard was penetrating my heart. It's really all about our hearts! Parenting is about gaining and keeping our children's hearts. In order to pass on our value system to our kids, we must have their hearts. My friend Tara at Too Many Kids in the Bathtub is so awesome at keeping the hearts of her children the focus of her child training. And Kimberly at Raising Olives recently posted some signs of having your child's heart. Likewise, worship is all about the heart.
"For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise." Psalm 51:16
"For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6
So we can go through all the outward motions of our kids sitting quietly in church with us, diligently taking notes, and miss the point. Does God have our hearts in worship?
Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman is a wonderful book about this goal of teaching our children to worship. I need to constantly be reminded that I'm not trying to train my kids to be quiet pew warmers, but that what I'm attempting to do is actually much more important than that and it starts before we get to church.
One of the things I've been trying to do with my kids on Sunday mornings is recite Psalms. I think the Psalms are a wonderful way to prepare our hearts for worship and the kids have 4 or 5 of them memorized, so these are our starting place. I say "try" because sometimes we end up saying our Psalms in the car on the way to church, instead of in our living room beforehand, but the point is I can't expect my kids to undergo a change in focus like the flip of a switch the moment we enter the church building. This isn't realistic, nor is it healthy. It's our job, as parents, to help our kids prepare for worship each Sunday morning. In fact, we could even back it up to Saturday night family worship. I'm afraid we've failed at this in our current church culture. And this is probably a lot of what' s behind the staggering statistics in Already Gone of 20 something year olds leaving the church in droves never to return.
I don't have all the answers, but I've seen God work in our family as we've begun to worship together. A few weeks ago, my 3 yr old sat on my lap during church and looked very bored. It occurred to me that he probably wasn't following what his dad was saying, so I bent down to him and whispered in his ear that daddy was talking about Jesus. His eyes got big and wide as he said, "He is?" Then I whispered in his ear that Jesus is coming back. Now he got this huge smile and turned to me and said, "Now I'm happy." He missed lots of the ins and outs of that sermon, but he definitely got the main point. This morning we took communion. As I held the tiny cracker between my index finger and thumb, my 3 yr old looked over at my hand and asked, "Where's the body?" Isn't it amazing that he remembers that the cracker represents the body of Christ? I'm so grateful to have experienced these wonderful firsts with my 3 year old son that I would have missed out on had he been in another class. What a blessing for me and our whole family!
Do you worship in church as a family? Why or why not? At what age do you bring your children into church with you? My 15 month old started getting noisy and restless when she started walking so she doesn't stay with us through the sermon, but I would like to change that. Do you know of any other resources for teaching children to worship? What are your struggles in this area?
We are growing in this area right now in our family. Sometimes I look over to find my 6 year old on the floor looking for a pen or notebook and have to give her the look. Today my 8 year old got up to throw away a piece of trash just before church was over and I had to talk with her later about how she could have waited 5 minutes to do that. I asked her if God would have preferred her to have her mind on the trash at that moment or on Him and she knew the answer. I think taking the time to talk through these issues, like what is "worship", is important. We aren't guarenteed the result of godly children, that part's up to the Lord, but we can do our best to major on the majors, not the minors. The majors in this case are teaching our kids to know God, to love Him and worship Him, teaching our kids about the glory of God and that their purpose in life is all wrapped up in His glory. The minors, still important but less so, are learning to sit quietly in church and take notes. Majoring on the minors will produce quiet, respectful kids, but if they don't have a heart for the Lord, it will all have been in vain.